Tag Archives: perspective

Country mouse in the city

Mela, my agent, asks her artists every so often to create images keeping to a theme. This time it was City/Country. I decided to update the old Æsop fable about the country mouse and the city mouse.

To feel the city from a mouse’s point of view, I used some crazy linear perspective—with a vanishing point in the sky—and aerial perspective, making the nearby colors vivid and the faraway colors pale. One rainy afternoon I happened to be stuck in midtown Manhattan traffic, so I took a few photos. I’m glad I did! They provided perfect reference for this scene.

Some old sketches

I don’t think I posted these earlier. They’re from Peter Spit a Seed at Sue by Jackie French Koller.

Sorry about the lack of posts recently. I’ve been busy developing one or two new projects and they must be kept secret until the publisher gives the go-ahead.

Chaos in Market Square

From Peter Spit A Seed At Sue, a painting in progress:

I’ve set the scene in Pittsburgh’s Market Square.  If you look closely you’ll see the location photos I shot.  I used them to help me design a setting that would be recognizable from a variety of different vantage points.  The pie-wielding mayor is a caricature of Mrs Dittman, the principal of Allen Road Elementary School while I attended.

The Robin Hood Project

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I like to listen to really old classical music, and have attended the wonderful concerts organized by the Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh.  I do illustrations for their season brochures.

A couple of years ago they booked the group Hesperus, who had the clever idea to perform a renaissance/medieval soundtrack to Douglas Fairbanks’ silent movie Robin Hood.  My buddy Ann Mason, who was executive director at the time, asked me to do a poster illustration for this special concert.  How could I resist?

I wanted to show the musicians superimposed on a larger-than-life Douglas Fairbanks, and somehow interacting with him.  I remembered a scene from the movie My Favorite Year, in which Peter O’Toole (essentially playing Errol Flynn) drunkenly walks into a screening of one of his old movies and begins sword-fighting his own projected image.

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To separate the musicians from Fairbanks, I chose to paint them in color and him black & white—that’s a no-brainer.  Also, they will be lighted from below (as they turned out to be during the performance) while Fairbanks would be lighted from the left.  They will cast hard shadows onto the b&w image to keep up the illusion of a projected movie.  The perspective for Fairbanks is different and far more dramatic than for the musicians—we’re looking at him from a bug’s-eye view; the musicians are level with our own horizon.  As usual with my perspective exercises, if you take a ruler to it and try to find a vanishing point you’ll be doomed to disappointment.  The vanishing points are there, somewhere, but I don’t strictly adhere to them.

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I did a burnt sienna underpainting even for the black and white portion.  I think it warms it up a bit.

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This one is near, that one is far

When I talk about perspective, I’m talking about how an artist creates the illusion of distance in a flat drawing or painting.  Two ways to do that are 1) make the nearer object big and the farther object small, and 2) make the nearer object dark and the farther object light.

Here are some sketches from Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates.

We kids’ book illustrators are responsible for telling the author’s story in pictures.  So, when I work on a project, my first drawings are thumbnail sketches.  These are pretty small: maybe only an inch and a half tall.  Because they’re so tiny, I can draw them quickly and best of all, fit all of the scenes onto a single 18″ x 24″ piece of layout paper.  That way I can see the whole story at once.

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Here’s the thumbnail sketch for pages 14/15.  It’s pretty rough, but everything is there.  Another huge advantage to working so small is that the image’s composition becomes clear and simple.  Notice the contrasts:  Henry, in the foreground, is big and dark; the balloon, in the background, is small and light.

Atmospheric perspective is a technique Leonardo, Raphael and the rest of the boys came up with during the Renaissance.  Things that are close to us are sharp and contrasty, things that are far away are muted and softer.  If you are looking at a mountain off in the distance, its colors are softer because you’re seeing them through air that’s full of dust, water particles, cigar smoke, car exhaust, bird poop, &c.

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Spread 14/15

The comprehensive sketch is more refined but I’ve kept to the same composition.

By the way, those parrots are inspired by my parrot, Sherman.

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Wacka-wacka!

Sometimes the thumbnail isn’t quite doing the job, and the comprehensive sketch will change—and improve—what I’ve tried to do in the thumbnail version.  Here’s pages 20/21.

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In the thumbnail version, these pages look a little confusing together.  On the left, Henry’s gaze and pointing finger lead the reader away from the spread.  It’s always a good idea to direct the reader’s attention into the spread, not out of it.  Also, the right side is okay, but not inspired.

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Left-hand page.  By taking Henry out of the picture and just showing the book, we’ve improved the image: the bunny’s gone, so he can’t point outside of the picture.

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Right-hand page.  Yeah, much better.  A treetop lookout for Henry allows me to create a cinematic image, with dramatic perspective.  Henry is way up high and close to us and the Salty Carrot is below and far away.  The great height adds dramatic tension to the scene (will he fall off the ladder?), making it more important.

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All the dark, rich colors are near to us: the tree and Henry.  No dark colors were used at all to paint the ship and palm trees below.